By Priya Ramesh (@newpr)
Organizational Culture and Executive Leadership are Key Factors Influencing Social Media Adoption: Don’t blame it on yourself
[P.S.: I am re-posting this blog post with updates because I sincerely feel that this is timely as I see several of my friends who are community managers working so hard to help their companies embrace social media but are facing more roadblocks than bridges. This post is to help them affect change within their organizations in a strategic manner and not get demotivated in the process. You are not alone! You can do it! Keep at it! and call me if you need me to inject some social reality into your organization.]
In my ten years of working with corporate communications and marketing pros across Fortune 500, small to medium sized organizations, I have come across two specific types of organizations: i) organizations that have a culture of learning, collaboration and hence find ways to increase efficiencies and ii) companies that have the same beliefs but those beliefs never made it past the MISSION STATEMENT. I have no problem against the latter as long as you are positively affecting the company’s bottom line and meeting your goals but I do have a few things to say to social media strategists who have been hired to do their job but end up spending more time just wrestling within their office corridors to go “social.”
I realize there are several unanswered questions, debates, fallouts around “What does social networking do for my business?” “Where’s the ROI?” “I don’t have the time/money to spend on social media” but just ask yourself one simple question, “Where is your target audience spending more and more time these days?” and you will nod with me in agreement that Facebook and Twitter have become a “must-have” for any brand. Having at the least a page on Facebook and a Twitter profile is like having an online business card. So enough of that ranting about why you must have a social presence, let’s consider some key organizational/leadership characteristics that I think are crucial to your success as a social media/community manager. I have personally experienced these in helping several CRT/tanaka clients who represent a wide variety of verticals from retail, consumer, high-tech, non-profit, higher education.
Learning organizations do better with social media: Not to get all theoretical on you but you will like the definition of a “learning organization” from Peter Sange (named Strategist of the Century by Journal of Business Strategy), “Learning organizations are organizations where people continually expand their capacity to create the results they truly desire, where new and expansive patterns of thinking are nurtured, where collective aspiration is set free, and where people are continually learning to see the whole together.” Initially I was biased and thought only tech companies who need to keep up with ever changing landscapes which also makes them learning organizations get social media. I was so wrong. One key commonality that binds high-tech, government agencies, non-profits to embrace new tools and technologies to better communicate is their appetite for constant learning. How do you learn when you are happy being a frog in the well and nothing wrong with that. But if you want to swim in the ocean, learning to adapt and embrace is key, right?
Collaborative environments facilitate faster social media integration: We all in the corporate communications world think the C-letter word, “Communication” is a challenge for organizations. Well, let me tell you there’s another word that just seems to be a harder sell, “COLLABORATION.” A good majority of companies still operate as individual units who are tasked with their own specific goals and responsibilities and don’t necessarily communicate or collaborate amongst each other to maximize efficiencies. The best environments where social media adaption is faster facilitating its usage for internal communications, customer service, marketing etc. are COLLABORATIVE environments. The mindset in these organizations is “We, us and let’s make it happen together” versus “I, You, I am not responsible for social media.” There is a link between the learning and collaborative environments because fundamentally these are folks, who like to push the envelope, look for new opportunities and hence collaborate!
Open cultures more receptive to social media: I use “openness” in the context of interactions with your external environments and deriving value out of those interactions. An open organizational culture is one that builds bridges and not walls around itself to facilitate new ideas and new information. This is easier said than done but I have seen social media strategists that work for “open” systems do way better in terms of engaging both online and offline versus those that are still working on winning their executive buy-in to proactively comment online. Social media crowdsourcing efforts like Dell’s Idea Storm or IBM’s Smarter Cities project are good examples of companies leveraging their communities to take them to the next level and this wouldn’t be possible without an open-minded culture.
Top-down leadership with resistance to technology makes it harder: The head of the organization definitely impacts the social media adaption rate. The key decision-makers need not be social media savvy but their realization and acceptance is hugely instrumental in steering the company in the right direction. I have seen where the head of Marketing and or CEO are gung-ho about new media, their teams are that much more effective in leveraging new tools to market themselves. On the contrary when you have to explain and pretty much act as a social media salesperson to your boss on a daily basis, the enthusiasm and productivity of the social media strategist takes a hit.
The IBM 2012 Global CEO Study interviewed over 1700 CEOs across 64 countries representing 18 industry verticals and shared their collective opinion on the CEOs’ perception of the critical role social media will play in the next five years. Read the complete report here. “One of the most compelling findings is how in tune CEOs are about the implications and impact of social media,” said Bridget van Kralingen, senior vice president, IBM Global Business Services. “Rather than repeating the familiar lament about de-personalizing human relationships, this view leans heavily in favor of deepening them, and using dynamic social networks to harness collective intelligence to unlock new models of collaboration.”
Yes, change is hard but may be that rhetoric needs to change and become, “Change is Constant.” Don’t lose hope if your company culture is not ready for social media integration. There’s a reason why they hired you and with a little bit more push and pull, you can make it happen. I like Kotter’s 8-Step to Change Management which holds true in our case as well:
If you have managed to cross all the roadblocks and are on your way to implementing a company-wide social media program, we want to hear from you. Tell us more!
Follow these social media strategists/thought leaders on Twitter to connect with them and understand how they took their companies social:
Danielle Brigida (@starfocus): The National Wildlife Federation
I had the pleasure of listening to Danielle’s journey helping the National Wildlife Federation go social and she is nothing but a power house of wisdom on how to take baby steps to help an organization see the light at the en of the social tunnel.
Lauren Vargas (@vargasl): Former community manager for Radian6, now helping Aetna
I have closely followed Lauren online and she has mastered the art and science of community building both when she was at Radian6 and now in a high regulated, highly process-driven culture like Aetna. Lauren is a transformative social leader who sees opportunities to connect with key audiences online even in the most complex of organizational cultures like healthcare companies.
Richard Binhammer (@RichardatDell): I might sound biased but Richard is one of my favorite digital change agents that has a personality to first make you like him and then he will make you like social media. His innate personality, his foundation in traditional PR and his huge appetite for “change for the better” is what distinguishes him from the rest. The man who started of as a traditional PR pro at Dell and was asked to figure out blogs, he is now responsible for helping with Dell’s 24/7 Social Media Command Center and establishing a social media certification program across Dell’s 100,000+ employees. I have heard Richard speak at conferences. He has the no-nonsense attitude and data-driven communications skills to take an organization social. He is a terrific social leader that every company would die to have! If you know me long enough, I am not very generous with my compliments. So yeah follow him NOW!
Sarah Skerik (@sarahskerik): This woman has done a heck of a job socializing the PR Newswire brand. While Sara and I continue to argue about the value press releases generate especially in the digital age, she is your classic one-person social media department that convinced PR Newswire to engage more online. Sara’s content strategy has made PR Newswire increase its brand awareness online and I am sure she spent several sleepless nights with limited resources to establish a social media framework at PR Newswire.
So let’s get busy, don’t give up. Let’s work towards the day your CEO says, “Thank you, I had no clue, look at what you helped our organization accomplish. We are connecting in real-time with our customers and our online brand sentiment is now a high positive. They don’t seem to complain as much anymore.”
Image courtesy: http://www.socialsignal.com/cartoon/we-mean-you-no-harm